Maybe-Finally-Relief for Lawsuits Against Small Business

It’s been a long time coming with much damage done to small business owners but legislators seem to be zeroing in on corrective measures to give business owners a chance to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) without facing destructive lawsuits.

Senator John Moorlach SB 1142, scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee today, “would provide that a defendant is not liable for statutory damages, costs, or plaintiff’s attorney’s fees for an alleged violation that is corrected within 120 days of service of a demand letter alleging the violation.”

SB 269 introduced by Democratic Senator Richard Roth and Republican Senator Andy Vidak would “establish a rebuttable presumption, for the purpose of an award of minimum statutory damages, that certain technical violations do not cause a plaintiff to experience difficulty, discomfort, or embarrassment, if specified conditions are met.”

I remember an article posted on this page in 2014 declaring hope that help may be on the way for small businesses that are often victimized by lawsuits for minor infractions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray filed the bills. The authors signed onto each other’s bills.

That hope expressed in 2014 may finally arrive and although well past time, would be welcomed by the small business community.

Recently, the San Jose Mercury News ran a story under the headline: “Serial ADA Lawsuit Filer Striking Bay Area.” The article reported that attorney Scott Johnson had filed thousands of ADA lawsuits in Northern California, which brought in millions of dollars in settlement and attorney’s fees.

That type of story is a familiar one to small businesses victimized in Southern California, as well. A little over a decade ago a Beverly Hills law firm, The Trevor Law Group, was accused of extortion by threatening to sue thousands of businesses for violating provisions of the Business and Professions Code. Finally, the state bar recommended that members of the firm be disbarred.

The law on infractions to the disability act as it currently stands could cost business owners a $4,000 civil penalty and attorney’s fees if violations are claimed. If the case drags on, the legal fees grow, which is why businesses often pay a demanded settlement fee that usually runs five figures. Some business owners call it, plainly, “a shakedown.”

Most small business owners are willing to fix any problems if given the opportunity. Looking over their shoulders at every customer or attorney who sees a pot of gold at the end of the regulation rainbow should not be a worry when the small businessperson is trying to fairly conduct their business.

It is good to see Democratic and Republican lawmakers coming together to offer a solution to this small business angst. Let’s hope reforms get to the governor’s desk and he signs them.

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